Actor, singer and activist Harry Belafonte wrapped up the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site's 55th anniversary of the desegregation crisis Tuesday with a showing of the documentary "Sing Your Song," based on his life.
Belafonte, 85, held a Q&A after the film for a full house at the Argenta Community Theater. Belafonte told the audience that he'd had a stroke and that he needed to use a cane. Despite the stroke, he stayed very much on point and focused during the discussion. He did, however, have to decline the request to sing for the audience because of vocal cord damage that resulted from the stroke.
Annie Abrams, who said it was her 81st birthday that day, asked Belafonte if she was right to be somewhat discouraged that the civil rights movement has been going on for so long, and how it seems as though it needs to start over. Belafonte acknowledged her concern and said “we blinked,” and that the movement does need to be reinforced in today's youth by their elders. He did say, however, that he was inspired by the feedback he'd gotten from students at Central High School earlier in the day.
“We need to make sure the young stay informed,” he said.
Skip Dahlgren (who was front and center, and, before the event said he'd been listening to Belafonte since childhood) asked about the perception of America from the perspective of other countries and how it has changed throughout the years. Dahlgren described having to explain to his friends in Ethiopia in 1968 after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy how in America, such terrible things were happening.
Belafonte described going into the “dark ages of our foreign policy” before President Barack Obama was elected and that America's image has improved because of Obama's election. He cited examples of turmoil caused by war in Iraq and the war on drugs being a few of the primary negative impacts on America's reputation.
Spirit Trickey, festival director and chief of interpretation at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site, moderated the Q&A. She is the daughter of one of the Little Rock Nine, Minnijean Brown Trickey, who was also one of the evening's honorees.
A special awards ceremony honoring Belafonte and the Little Rock Nine concluded the event. Belafonte's appearance and film screening was part the Reel Civil Rights Film Festival, a special project of The Little Rock Film Festival. The film festival also brought in iconic Olympic Gold Medalist Tommie Smith and motivational speaker and author Kevin Powell.